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Fukushima College robot wins top prize for nuclear decommissioning

The Japan Times

Fukushima – A robot created by a team from a technology college in northeastern Japan recently won the top prize in a robotics competition that had the theme of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The Mehikari robot of Fukushima College earned praise for its speed as well as ability to employ different methods to retrieve mock debris similar in size to that at the plant, the site of a nuclear disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The robot completed the set task in about 2 minutes, the fastest time, in the annual competition aimed at fostering future engineers that was attended by students from 13 colleges belonging to the National Institute of Technology. Sunday's competition was the fifth of its kind. Students in 14 teams from the colleges across the country such as in Osaka and Kumamoto prefectures were tasked this year with developing robots to remove fuel debris from the plant, organizers said.


Robot Battle Still Favors Japan and Europe---For Now

WSJ.com: WSJD - Technology

Covid-19 has accelerated automation in factories, especially in manufacturing powerhouse China. Foreign companies have long dominated the market for industrial robots and automation tools there--but there are signs that dominance is fraying around the edges. As the factory for the world, China is unsurprisingly far and away the largest market for industrial robots. Before the pandemic, however, the U.S.-China trade war was slowing growth. New installations of industrial robots amounted to 140,500 in 2019, a 9% decline from the previous year, but still almost three times the number for second-place Japan, according to the International Federation of Robotics.


Japan eyes use of robots to boost COVID-19 testing as Olympics loom

The Japan Times

Health minister Norihisa Tamura watched a demonstration Tuesday of a prototype automated COVID-19 testing machine that uses a robotic arm to take a sample from a person's nose and can deliver the results in about 80 minutes. The robot system, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Inc., fits in a standard shipping container that can be transported by truck and set up at stadiums, theme parks and other mass gatherings, the company said. "Looking at the global trend, we need to increase the number of people receiving tests, and the demand for preventive testing is rising," Tamura told reporters at the demonstration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration has attracted criticism for Japan's paucity of testing. His government is under pressure to show it has the pandemic under control with fewer than 200 days until the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo -- already delayed by a year -- and vaccinations yet to start.


Fukushima nuclear debris removal to be delayed due to pandemic

The Japan Times

The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered core meltdowns in 2011, has decided to delay the removal of nuclear debris by about one year from 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, sources said Wednesday. The process of removing the melted fuel, the most difficult part of cleaning up the facility, was to begin at the No. 2 reactor in 2021, but the virus spread has stalled tests in the U.K. of a robot arm that is to be used for the removal, the sources said. Of the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors that experienced meltdowns following a massive earthquake and tsunami, the removal procedure was to start at the No. 2 unit because the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., had the best grasp of its internal condition, they said. Tepco had planned to insert a robot arm into the unit's containment vessel, from which it would initially extract around 1 gram of the debris at a time, then gradually expand the amount as it works toward removing several kilograms a day. The company was originally scheduled to verify in August the viability of the robot arm in the U.K. and transfer the equipment to Japan in February 2021 so that workers could start training with it.


JR Hokkaido to scrap 18 unmanned train stations

The Japan Times

Sapporo – Hokkaido Railway Co., or JR Hokkaido, said that it will scrap 18 of its unmanned train stations due to a decrease in users amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The stations to be closed down in line with the spring 2021 revision of its timetable are on four lines, including the Soya Main Line, according to the company, which serves the northernmost Japan prefecture of Hokkaido. The number of JR Hokkaido stations to be scrapped through a timetable revision is the largest since the company was born out of the breakup and privatization of Japanese National Railways in April 1987, which also created other Japan Railways, or JR, Group firms. The upcoming move will reduce the number of stations in JR Hokkaido's service area to 372. JR Hokkaido will also review the operations of 14 limited express trains next spring.


Panasonic to trial self-driving home delivery robot in February

The Japan Times

Panasonic Corp. said Monday it will start trials in February of home deliveries by a self-driving robot in a residential area in Kanagawa Prefecture as the coronavirus pandemic has raised demand for services with reduced or no human-to-human contact. Panasonic plans to test the feasibility of the delivery service using an autonomous robot that can travel at a maximum speed of 4 kilometers per hour with items for delivery loaded inside. Developed by the Osaka-based firm, the small robot will be used in an area designed to showcase advanced technologies under a joint project with local authorities and other firms. Self-driving robots have gained renewed attention amid the global coronavirus pandemic, which has raised the need for some people to avoid human-to-human contact and stay at home. The virus outbreak has led more people to shop online and have food and other items delivered to their homes, but a labor shortage in a range of industries including parcel delivery has been an issue in Japan.


Osaka robot asks customers to wear masks and social distance

The Japan Times

OSAKA – A robot capable of asking customers to wear masks and maintain social distancing to stem the spread of the coronavirus is being tested at an Osaka shop. The robot's developer, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International out of Kyoto, envisions that it will be used to replace staff in stores and reduce contact between people amid the pandemic. The trial, which began Wednesday at a merchandise store for J. League soccer club Cerezo Osaka in the city's Suminoe Ward, is scheduled to run through Nov. 30 but may be extended. With the layout of the store pre-loaded, the robot, equipped with a camera and sensors, is able to patrol around the store, observe customer movements and measure distance using lasers. The robot identifies customers who are not wearing masks and calls on them to do so after a staff member from the institute confirms via a camera that it has not made an error.


Japan's 'healing robots' help ease COVID-19 isolation

The Japan Times

Nagoya – While many people have learned to stay in touch with loved ones, friends, and colleagues through videoconferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reduction of face-to-face interaction has boosted a market for robots providing substitutes for physical human contact. "Healing robots," such as the cuddly humanoid Lovot developed by Groove X Inc., Sony Corp.'s Aibo robotic dog, and Qoobo, a furry cushion with a tail that moves in reaction to strokes developed by Yukai Engineering Inc., are seeing sharp sales rises, the companies say. Lovot and Aibo can gather data on the well-being of their owners and report it remotely, which is why some people are gifting the automatons to their older parents living far away whom they are refraining from visiting due to infection risks. "When people feel uneasy or lonely, they tend to yearn for a sense of physical touch," Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor of intelligent robotics at Osaka University, said in explaining the reason behind the trend. "Through healing robots, they must be trying to confirm the actual existence of others, which is hard to really feel on the telephone or through videoconferencing," he said. Lovot, a mascot-like robot with round eyes that stands 43 centimeters tall, has even found its way into a kindergarten in Nagoya, to help young children who may be affected by the emotional stresses created by the pandemic.


FEATURE: "Healing robots" help ease COVID-19 isolation – IAM Network

#artificialintelligence

While many people have learned to stay in touch with loved ones, friends, and colleagues through videoconferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reduction of face-to-face interaction has boosted a market for robots providing substitutes for physical human contact. "Healing robots," such as the cuddly humanoid Lovot developed by Groove X Inc., Sony Corp.'s Aibo robotic dog, and Qoobo, a furry cushion with a tail that moves in reaction to strokes developed by Yukai Engineering Inc., are seeing sharp sales rises, the companies say. Lovot and Aibo can gather data on the well-being of their owners and report it remotely, which is why some people are gifting the automatons to their elderly parents living far away whom they are refraining from visiting due to infection risks. "When people feel uneasy or lonely, they tend to yearn for a sense of physical touch," Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor of intelligent robotics at Osaka University, said in explaining the reason behind the trend. "Through healing robots, they must be trying to confirm the actual existence of others, which is hard to really feel on the telephone or through videoconferencing," he said.


Caterpillar bets on self-driving machines impervious to pandemics

#artificialintelligence

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Question: How can a company like Caterpillar CAT.N try to counter a slump in sales of bulldozers and trucks during a pandemic that has made every human a potential disease vector? Caterpillar's autonomous driving technology, which can be bolted on to existing machines, is helping the U.S. heavy equipment maker mitigate the heavy impact of the coronavirus crisis on sales of its traditional workhorses. With both small and large customers looking to protect their operations from future disruptions, demand has surged for machines that don't require human operators on board. Sales of Caterpillar's autonomous technology for mining operations have been growing at a double-digit percentage clip this year compared with 2019, according to previously unreported internal company data shared with Reuters. By contrast, sales of its yellow bulldozers, mining trucks and other equipment have been falling for the past nine months, a trend that's also hit its main rivals including Japan's Komatsu Ltd 6301.T and American player Deere & Co DE.N .